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A-Ron’s Stream It Or Skip It: Defending Jacob (2020)

Chris Evans trades in his “Captain America” jumper for a suit and tie, as a father who tries to save his son from being the prime suspect to a murder. Streaming service AppleTV+, Hollywood screenwriter Mark Bomback and film director Morten Tyldum adapt William Landay’s book “Defending Jacob”. Apple’s one month charge of $4.99 is absolutely worth it, just for the eight episode limited series. Mark Bomback faithfully adapts many of the plot points of the source work but makes two major changes, including the series ending. Bomback’s ending is discussion worthy, thoughtful, quietly brilliant and a gut punch to the eight-part series. Stars Chris Evans, does the best work of his career and Michelle Dockery is a complete revelation. The cliffhangers and tension of each episode, makes it difficult to not continue, but easy to immediately press play for the next episode. It’s gripping, well produced, slickly directed, with high production values, a moody atmosphere and enough twists and secrets to keep you guessing until the final eighth episode. Since it’s a limited series and no second season in sight, it probably won’t actually have viewers keeping their subscription past the free trial. Either way, at least you got to see the best thing on the streaming service war. 

Apple started their own streaming service awhile back, while it’s the cheapest service out of the bunch at only $4.99 a month. It’s also the service with the least amount of content. Unlike Netflix and Hulu that gives you thousands of movies and tv shows to choose from. AppleTV+ only allows you to access their few original series, while any movies or Tv series requires payment of anywhere between $4.99-$19.99 for movies. Although it does allow you to port over your digital movie collection from Vudu or Movies Anywhere. 

From current reports I’ve read, Apple is currently working with studios to stream films like Netflix. But at $4.99 a month from the looks of their original content it’s worth it. While I haven’t watched anything other than one of their original offerings, the one month charge of $4.99 is absolutely worth it, just for their eight episode limited series “Defending Jacob”.  

Although I had no problems with it’s eight episode stretch, I can’t help but think what an even greater experience “Defending Jacob” would have been as a 120 minute theatrical experience. One of the fastest binge watches I’ve ever gone through and one of the most addicting shows I’ve seen this year. “Defending Jacob” is not one to miss on Apple TV+.

“Defending Jacob” is based on the 2012 crime novel by William Landay. Showrunner and writer Mark Bomback faithfully adapts many of the plot points of the source work but makes two major changes late in the game, including the series ending. I’m not going to admit whether it’s an improvement or worse from the book (which I read on the internet). 

Bomback’s ending is ambiguous, discussion worthy, quietly brilliant and a gut punch to the eight-part series, that will be a bit frustrating for a lot of viewers. Bomback’s ending sets the stage for a possible second season (which I hope never happens), and according to Bomback, a continuation is something he isn’t working on nor considering. 

Bomback’s ending is more thoughtful and more worthy of discussions afterward. Despite a new ending it’s still, on balance as a well paced series that ladles out red herrings and legitimate clues in equal balance as we’re kept guessing long after the final shot. 

“Defending Jacob” is a part of that steamy and lurid crime soap opera world, featuring beautiful people, cleanly dressed, with ugly secrets, often set against the backdrop of outwardly upper-class comfort and success. It follows such streaming series such as “Big Little Lies” from HBO, “The Affair” on Showtime, and “Little Fires Everywhere” on Hulu. 

Director of all eight episodes is Morten Tyldum, director of the Oscar nominated “The Imitation Game” and the Chris Pratt space romance “Passengers”. The show runner, executive producer and writer is popular Hollywood screenwriter Mark Bomback (“Live Free Or Die Hard”, “War and Dawn Of Planet Of The Apes”, “Total Recall” and “The Art Of Racing In The Rain”). Tyldum and Bomback are successfully able to turn William Landay’s novel into an entertaining piece of television with slick direction and an engaging smartly written script. 

Chris Evans (“Captain America”) is Andy Barber, a handsome and successful assistant district attorney in Newton, Massachusetts, and Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary on “Downton Abbey”) is his beautiful wife Laurie, who works at a daycare facility for at-risk youth and is a popular figure in the community. Happily married for nearly 20 years, the Barbers dote on their only child: 14-year-old Jacob (Jaeden Martell), who’s almost unsettlingly reserved and is usually buried in his cell phone or video games, which pretty much makes him a typical eighth grader. Andy drives an Audi and Laurie has a Range Rover, and they live in a meticulously appointed suburban home on a quiet, tree-lined street, and by all appearances theirs is the classic American family dream come true.

The Barbers and the community as a whole are rocked when 14-year-old Ben Rifkin, a classmate of Jacob’s, is found stabbed to death in the woods not far from the Barbers’ home. As the star prosecutor in the DA’s office, Andy is put in charge of the case. He assures his boss (Sakina Jaffrey) it’s not a conflict of interest, as Jacob (who seems curiously unaffected by the news) has told his father he hardly knew Ben. 

Chris Evans trades in his “Captain America” jumper for a suit and tie, doing the best work of his career as Andy, whose job is seeking the truth but whose life has been built on a foundation of deceit. He expertly conveys Andy’s desperate, ferocious need to protect his son, his genuine love for his wife and the haunting memories that jolt him awake in the middle of the night. Evans is leaning into the intellectual role, a smart move and a way to deliver a highly affecting performance as the character is pushed to his boundaries. He’s able to play weary, weathered, charming and sharp.

Michelle Dockery (“Downton Abbey”) has some showcase moments as well, especially toward the last three to two episodes. Dockery is a complete revelation as mother to Jacob and wife to Chris Evans District Attorney Andy. 

Jaeden Martell, who played the young James McAvoy in “IT: Chapter 1”, is the perfect young actor in the role. He truly walks the line between being kind of weird, creepy, an outcast with a dark side. But he also plays an innocent, awkward teen, really well and it’s his performance that will keep you guessing about what the truth really is and if he is or isn’t innocent or even if he is hiding secrets. he portrays Jacob in a way that has us convinced he’s a sociopath or maybe he’s just a withdrawn, socially awkward and misunderstood kid. After all, there’s nothing in his past to indicate he’s capable of such brutality or is there?

The great, Oscar winning J.K. Simmons returns to his “Oz” roots as Andy’s estranged father, who’s been serving life in prison for a heinous crime and hasn’t seen his son in 30 years. Simmons as he always does steals every scene he is in. He is such a screen presence and plays vile so well. Cherry Jones is astonishing in a quietly powerful presence as the defense attorney hired by Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery. 

Daniel Henshall is unnerving as Leonard Patz, a sex offender who has pictures of Ben on his cell phone. Betty Gabriel is a force as Duffy, a detective who has partnered with Andy on dozens of investigations over the years. As Andy’s fellow assistant district attorney and protégé-turned-rival Neal Logiudice is played by “Den Of Thieves”, Pablo Schreiber in a role that you can’t help but despise and loath him. 

“Defending Jacob” perfectly captures the dominance and the consequences of social media. Told through the lives of Jacob and his friends, who text and group chat about the murder, Instagram about the murder, posting gossip. 

Throughout the series, we flash forward to 10 months after the tragic events, with Andy’s fellow assistant district attorney (Pablo Schreiber) grilling Andy in front of a grand jury. We don’t know why Andy is being interrogated until the last episode of the series. It’s just one of the many brilliant mysteries and twists that Bomback expertly lays out for us to solve. 

The cliffhangers as each episode ends, makes it difficult to not continue, but easy to immediately press play for the next episode. “Defending Jacob” is gripping, well produced, directed, with high production values, a moody atmosphere and enough twists and secrets to keep you guessing until the final eighth episode. 

“Defending Jacob” is an exceptionally enthralling ride filled with tense scenes, astounding performances, well-written characters, and an unpredictable outcome! It’s an addictive murder mystery with the tension of “Gone Girl”. This new series could be the reason viewers sign up for the free one week trial or is even willing to spend the five dollars a month. But with it being a limited series and no second season in sight, it probably won’t actually have viewers keeping their subscription past the free trial. Either way, at least you got to see the best thing on the streaming service war. 

GRADE: ★★★★★ (5/5) – STREAM IT!

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros is the movie critic for Maui Watch. He lives on the beautiful island of Maui and is also a member of the elite Hawaii Film Critics Society and an active cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, where his Grandfather started his love for the movies.

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